London: Archaeologists have discovered what they believe is an ancient Roman gladiator cemetery near York city centre.
About 80 remains have been unearthed since the investigation began in 2004, with more than half of them decapitated.
“The skulls were literally found somewhere else in the grave — not on top of the shoulders,” The Times quoted Kurt Hunter-Mann, a field officer at York Archaeological Trust who is leading the investigation, as saying.
“We could see that in quite a few cases the skulls had been chopped with some kind of heavy bladed weapon, a sword or in one or two cases an axe.
“But they were buried with a degree of care. There are no mass pits. Most of them are buried individually,” Kurt added.
A large carnivore bite mark on one of the skeletons has led the officer to believe that it may have been a gladiator involved in beast fights.
He added, “Other important pieces of evidence include a high incidence of substantial arm asymmetry.
“The arm asymmetry would also be consistent with weapons training that had already started in teenage years, and we know from Roman accounts that some gladiators entered their profession at a very young age.”
The size and importance of York suggested it might have had an amphitheatre, he said, but so far none has been found.
The most impressive grave was that of a tall man aged between 18 and 23, decapitated by several sword blows to the neck and buried in a large oval grave some time in the 3rd century.
Interred with him were what appear to have been the remains of substantial joints of meat from at least four horses, possibly consumed at the funeral — plus some cow and pig remains.
Dr Michael Wysocki, senior lecturer in forensic anthropology and archaeology at the university, said, “These are internationally important discoveries. We don’t have any other potential gladiator cemeteries with this level of preservation anywhere else in the world.”